Young Americans Are More Stressed Than Ever Before. Here's Why.

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By Seamus Roddy Updated April 4, 2023


Young adults are reporting notably high levels of stress in 2023.

Once upon a time, the popular imagination held an image of the carefree, unconcerned young person. They partied, slept in and figured-it-out-later, while older people sat in traffic and stewed in cubicles.

Today, that reality has reversed — young Americans exhibit the largest levels of stress. About 65% of millennials and 64% of Gen Z adults say their stress is at an all-time high, compared to 43% of baby boomers.

The findings come from a new survey of 1,000 American adults from Clever Real Estate, a company which regularly conducts personal finance surveys. The report found more than half of millennials and Gen Zers (55%) say they struggle to function because of stress, compared to 30% of baby boomers.

The full results show how financial obligations, workplace pressures, the presence of social media, and living in generally turbulent times all contribute to young Americans' stress.

Young Americans Face Formative Years in a Stressful Era

The survey data suggests Americans in general are experiencing more stress than at any point in the recent past, with young Americans particularly affected.

About 67% of Gen Z Americans, ages 18 to 26, and 64% of millennials, ages 27 to 42, say the past year has been the most stressful of their lives. And 45% Americans overall consider the 2020s the most stressful decade of the last 60 years.

Across all generations, 71% of Americans say they are now as stressed or more stressed than they were during the Great Recession.

Dr. Annia Raja, a licensed clinical psychologist, often treats millennials and Gen Z Americans. She said the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic have compounded and adversely affected young people.

"(COVID-related) disruptions in education, the job market, and social lives have left many young people feeling uncertain about their futures," Raja said. "Lingering uncertainty greatly contributes to stress."

Costs, Debt, Housing Prices — The American Dream Gets Pricey

The American dream has long been associated with financial prosperity. For young Americans, the challenges of living up to this ideal may be adding to their stress.

Raja points out that millennials and members of Gen Z grapple with substantial debt — often from student loans — and struggle to achieve the financial stability and independence older generations have.

She also said inflation — which hit a 40-year high in 2022 — is sapping young people’s purchasing power.

According to Clever’s data, reduced purchasing power has real, health-altering consequences for young people. Nearly half of millennials (44%) say they’ve skipped meals to afford housing payments — more than twice the share of baby boomers (20%) who have done the same.

Americans — Especially Young People — Say Social Media Has Added to Stress

Young people are often parodied for frequently updating their social media followers on what they had for dinner and whom they’re dating this week. But according to Clever’s data, young Americans are conscious that social media can undermine their happiness.

Young Americans — the most active social media users — hold social media in the lowest regard: 69% of Gen Z Americans say social media has been bad for society, compared to 63% of baby boomers and 61% of Gen Xers.

Steve Carleton, a licensed clinical social worker in Denver, suggests that the impossibility for most young people of avoiding social media’s unrealistic expectations and pressures is making them stressed and sick of social media platforms altogether.

"Social media has become a place full of competition, comparison and judgment, which can be very draining for young adults trying to find their own path in life," Carleton said.

Employment and the Workplace More Difficult for Young Americans

Paying the bills means having a job, and Carleton traces back much of young Americans’ stress to their challenges obtaining employment.

"Young people today are competing in a much more globalized job market, with many more applicants for every job opening," he said. "Higher-ups can find the best candidate from almost anywhere, so there is a lot of intense pressure for young professionals that can be a huge source of stress."

Clever’s data is consistent with Carleton’s observations, as nearly two-thirds of Gen Z survey respondents (62%) say they are stressed about the job market — the largest share of any generation.

The survey also examined workplace issues, finding 57% of Americans are stressed about their pay and 47% are stressed about a poor work-life balance. Nearly a quarter of Americans (24%) cited stress due to discrimination in the workplace.

Those findings could be especially troubling for Gen Z and millennials, with both groups substantially more diverse than preceding generations. The report found Black workers were 41% more likely than white workers to cite a lack of diversity as a source of stress and 30% more likely to cite workplace discrimination as a source of stress.

Despite problems at work and at home, Americans overall still have some optimism. About 59% say they expect to be less stressed one year from now.

This article was produced by Clever Real Estate and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

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